The colour brown: de-colonising anarchism and challenging white hegemony

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jonthom
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Jul 25 2013 16:29
The colour brown: de-colonising anarchism and challenging white hegemony

https://budourhassan.wordpress.com/2013/07/24/the-colour-brown-de-coloni...

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The appearance of the Egyptian Black Bloc in Cairo’s streets in January 2013 triggered gullible excitement in Western anarchist circles. Little thought was given to the Egyptian Black Bloc’s political vision – or lack thereof – tactics, or social and economic positions. For most Western anarchists, it was enough that they looked and dressed like anarchists to warrant uncritical admiration. Facebook pages of Israeli anarchists were swamped with pictures of Egyptian Black Bloc activists; skimming through the US anarchist blogosphere during that period would have given one the impression that the Black Bloc was Egypt’s first-ever encounter with anarchism and anti-authoritarianism. But as American writer Joshua Stephens notes, the jubilant reaction many Western anarchists have towards the Black Bloc raises unflattering questions concerning their obsession with form and representation, rather than content and actions. And in this regard, these anarchists are not different from the Islamists who were quick to denounce the Black Bloc as blasphemous and infidel merely because they looked like Westerners. Further, many Western anarchist reactions to the Black Bloc unmask an entrenched orientalist tendency. Their disregard of Egypt and the Middle East’s rich history of anarchism is one manifestation of this. As Egyptian anarchist, Yasser Abdullah illustrates, anarchism in Egypt dates back to the 1870’s in response to the inauguration of the Suez Canal; Italian anarchists in Alexandria took part in the First International, published an anarchist journal in 1877, and took part in the Orabi revolution of 1881; Greek and Italian anarchists also organised strikes and protests with Egyptian workers. Yet these struggles are nonchalantly shunned by those who act today as if the Black Bloc is the first truly radical group to grace Egyptian soil.

This article argues that the shallow reception of the Black Bloc is but one example of how “white anarchism” has yet to break away from orientalist prejudices that plague the Western left more generally. I will demonstrate here that this failure can be attributed to the fact that anarchism has not gone through the complete process of decolonisation. I begin by showing that colonial attitudes made the Republicans of the Spanish Revolution neglect Spanish colonialism in North Africa, leading them to focus solely on fighting fascism at home. That the Spanish Revolution continues to serve as an important reference for today’s anarchist movements, it is not surprising that similar colonial attitudes lead today’s movements to write-off centuries of anti-authoritarian struggle in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Such an incomplete process of decolonisation also means that many Western anarchist movements and the dominant anarchist discourse remain overwhelmingly white and exclude people of colour. I will also show that, not only does “white anarchism” tend to ostracise people of colour, its emphasis on image and style leads to the marginalisation of people with disabilities and those who do not necessarily self-identify as anarchists despite being vehemently anti-authoritarian. Lastly, the article takes “Anarchists Against the Wall” as a specific example of the various flaws inflicting white anarchism, namely, exclusivity, elitism and the failure to challenge white-colonial privileges adequately.

Mark.
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Joined: 11-02-07
Jul 25 2013 23:36

The article is worth reading in full, together with the reply by Ilan Shalif from AATW in the comments below it.

teh
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Joined: 15-06-09
Jul 26 2013 04:58

A mostly substance free article until the end with the AATW criticism. It says

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" I will demonstrate here that this failure can be attributed to the fact that anarchism has not gone through the complete process of decolonisation. I begin by showing that colonial attitudes made the Republicans of the Spanish Revolution neglect Spanish colonialism in North Africa, leading them to focus solely on fighting fascism at home."

but it doesn't 'show' how anarchist organizations related to the colonial divide let alone analyze it or critique it. As for the left Republicans, they didn't neglect colonialism they considered the colonies integral pieces of the nation state. The Nationalist rebellion was launched in Spanish Morocco and the Popular Front granting independence to it would have certainly undermined the army. The imprisoned national liberationist Abd el-Krim offered an alliance with the Spanish Republic against Franco but neither the Popular Front in France (under whom he was exiled) nor the Popular Front in Spain accepted his offer, even though he succeeded in defeating the Spain army before and had the popular forces to do so. Of course this doesn't relate to prol internationalism.

It then says

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I will also show that, not only does “white anarchism” tend to ostracise people of colour, its emphasis on image and style leads to the marginalisation of people with disabilities and those who do not necessarily self-identify as anarchists despite being vehemently anti-authoritarian.

which in actuality leads to a paragraph about how 'persons with a physical disability' 'may not be able to throw Molotov cocktails or form Black Blocs'. I take this to be a comment against mass acts of property destruction. 1) The previous section praised , (as a counter example), female Bedouin protesters blockading roads against military forces, implying that blocking roads is somehow not an act of violence or that persons with a physical disability would not be more vulnerable to state violence at such an action (I certainly, were I disabled, would not attempt such a thing under military rule). Rather the author says disabled people "can organise direct actions, participate in sit-ins, lead civil disobedience," just not throw molotovs. (Bizarrely the authors comments that the Bedouin protesters have the spirit of anarchism in them because they didn't listen to 'leaders' mimics the accusation leveled against white anarchists for obsessing with 'form and representation, rather than content and actions'). 2) Why is property destruction being described as something coming from or even emblematic of anarchists? If anything its characteristic of social upheavals where mediators of exploitation have temporary lost their organizational stranglehold over the masses but the latter aren't strong enough for self-organization and the Black Bloc is just the alienated, upper 'middle class' imitation of it. Then there is this statement:

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They may not be able to lead an “anarchist” lifestyle or discard civilisation because their functioning lives heavily rely on modern technology. That does not mean they cannot be anti-authoritarian like any other able-bodied person.

Which unless I misinterpreted the mocking tone in the first sentence means the author refers to the alienated subculture of anarchism not anarchism as a mass movement. In that case they should just ignore this anarchism rather then thinking of ways to make more people join it.

I thought the working class was central to revolution. Where is it in this discussion. The authors listed concerns could be that of a radical liberal, which don't make them wrong or unimportant and vice-versa, but don't explain how anarchism can be de-colonized, not to mention denationalized.